Ready for more lessons in the spring turkey woods
Pennsylvania opened its first spring turkey season in 1968. New York would follow several years later and the rest, they say, is history.
Back then, and for several years thereafter, no one had hunted turkeys in the spring before, so for those few of us who decided to try, it was a whole new ball game with a new set of rules and a steep learning curve. I hunted turkeys in the fall before, but everything I learned about hunting turkeys when the dogwood bloomed rather than when the snow flew was by trial and error – mostly error.
In the early 1970s, when New York’s turkey season was in its infancy, I remember the legendary Ben Rodgers Lee, who was from Coffeeville, Ala., tell members of the New York Southern Tier Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation that he loved coming up north to hunt turkeys in New York and Pennsylvania because “turkeys gobbled all day long.” I had a couple of spring seasons under my belt and thought that statement to be a bit odd, because in my limited experience it seemed like a natural occurrence. While walking through the spring woods, it was only a matter of waiting 15 or 20 minutes before hearing a tom sound off from somewhere above, below or in front of me. As the years passed, I understood what he meant.
Today, it could just be my imagination, but it seems toms are far less vocal then they were years ago. Any experienced turkey hunter will tell you a tom will usually gobble on the roost and, as he sees his hens pitch down from their perch, he will pitch down to join them. This means that while he is with the hens and follows them around, he may not gobble again until late morning, and possibly may not gobble again all day. The only thing a hunter can do under these circumstances is to keep coming back because one day they may find that tom is alone and receptive to calling.
Another lesson learned, and a hard one, was that even if the birds are silent, a tom may come sneaking in noiselessly to investigate the hen he hears calling. It took me several years to figure that one out. Twice in the past, after sitting with my back against a large white pine for over an hour, I decided to move to another location, only to spook a tom that was coming in to my calls. Needless to say, I’m more aware of that possibility now.
As the years passed, I learned even more about turkeys and turkey hunting. After being fooled a number of times, I now know never to think any hen I hear is another turkey hunter, no matter how bad it sounds. After watching a turkey-calling competition being judged by Ben Lee and other notables, I remember one of them saying, “If a real turkey hen had entered this contest, she would come in last.” I’ve learned turkeys don’t call to win contests and that what sounds like a neophyte hunter can actually be a real turkey with a bad voice.
As this season approaches, I wonder what else I’ll learn about hunting these great birds and what aspect of their behavior will be new to me. Like hunting deer, turkey hunting is a lifelong experience, and the more time you spend in the woods the better hunter you’ll become.